Marriage equality could be years away if the plebiscite is blocked in the Senate. Photo: Luis AscuiHere’s how the story goes.
Nanjing Night Net

Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team join forces to block the same-sex marriage plebiscite in the Senate.

Swayed by passionate lobbying from advocates, Malcolm Turnbull ditches the idea and opts for a free vote in Parliament. The Prime Minister is, after-all, a longstanding supporter of marriage equality. And he’s on the record opposing the plebiscite. Rather than defeated, he is unshackled. Deep down he’s happy it’s gone this way.

Allowed to vote according to their consciences, a same-sex marriage bill passes both houses of Parliament. There are tears of joy on the Senate floor; gay and lesbian couples around the country hit the streets to celebrate. Within days newspapers are filled with touching photos of the first gay and lesbian Australians to legally marry.

The only problem: it won’t happen this way. Almost certainly not. And anyone telling supporters of same-sex marriage otherwise is promoting a dangerous fantasy. A dream as empty as it is alluring.

A plebiscite may not be desirable and may not be fair. But it is the only realistic option for marriage equality in this term in Parliament.

To reject it means same-sex marriage is probably three years away, perhaps more. By the next election Labor will have a binding vote in favour of marriage equality, making it hard to convince the Coalition to support a free vote.

Notice how quiet Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi have been lately? Supposedly in favour of a plebiscite, they are delighted to see it on death row. A proposal designed to delay and divide is doing exactly that. By losing, they win.

Meanwhile, their colleagues who back same-sex marriage are arguing strongly for the plebiscite. Look at Warren Entsch, Christopher Pyne, Tim Wilson. All would prefer a free vote, but they know how their party works. They know that on this issue the Liberal Party truly is a broad church, with perspectives ranging from outright opposition to strident support.

The Labor figures who say Turnbull is hostage to the internal politics of his party on this issue are dead right. Internal politics matter.

When Malcolm Turnbull seized the prime ministership last September he signed a written agreement with the Nationals setting out the terms of the Coalition arrangement. Part of that deal was sticking with Tony Abbott’s plan for a plebiscite.

Turnbull then took the plebiscite to an election, promising Australians a say on the issue. And he won – albeit narrowly.

If Turnbull was to backflip on his policy and allow a free vote it would inflame the conservative wing of the party. So much so that Turnbull’s leadership itself could be at stake. Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce, George Christensen, Abbott and many more would argue that a fundamental election commitment had been broken. They wouldn’t be wrong.

Furthermore, a precedent would be set. Of Shorten staring down Turnbull. Of Turnbull buckling. You folded on same-sex marriage, Labor would taunt him, so why not on a banking royal commission or an emissions trading scheme?

And forget about enough brave Liberals crossing the floor to pass a Labor private member’s bill for marriage equality. The government controls which bills get voted on and not in the House of Representatives so the opportunity will never arise.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has argued persuasively that delaying same-sex marriage is a risk worth taking. He’s explained that a plebiscite is constitutionally unnecessary and could unleash a wave of hatred against gays and lesbians.

He also acknowledges that he has been in a committed gay relationship for over 40 years and he and his partner don’t know if they’d want to marry.

Other gay couples would dearly love to marry and are sick of waiting. Some would be willing to fight a plebiscite to do it.

It’s a grim choice but one that must be made. Dreams of a different world – a world where the internal politics of the party in power don’t matter – won’t make it go away.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


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